A Brief History
Historically, the planning and construction of water management systems was accomplished by only considering the administrative steps required to organize a tax ditch. The traditional program had a single purpose that focused primarily on drainage issues. Little consideration was given to environmental issues such as wildlife habitat or wetlands. As Delaware addressed the more obvious environmental concerns related to industrial and municipal discharges, development and other areas, the environmental focus eventually progressed beyond these areas to other activities now recognized as also having potentially “significant environmental impacts." Drainage of lands through the tax ditches was one such activity.
Various environmental groups and regulatory agencies began to question the potential impacts that these projects were having on natural resources. For example, interpretation of the Army Corps of Engineers and State of Delaware wetlands regulations became a frequent, ongoing process used by groups in an attempt to halt or minimize projects. Regulatory exemption requirements for channel construction were tightened and/or eliminated, and wetland/habitat mitigation was more frequently required.
In response to these environmental concerns and issues, changes in the water management program were initiated in order to make projects more environmentally friendly. Additionally, Governor Castle’s Executive Order No. 56 (1988) mandated State agencies to achieve projects with a no-net-loss of wetlands. It was recognized that natural resource impacts resulting from the reconstruction of drainage systems should be minimized.
Environmentally Friendly Channel Construction
For more than 15 years, the Department has focused on constructing environmentally-friendly water management projects. This initiative has resulted in the development of a list of proven practices that, when implemented, minimize environmental impacts from the construction and maintenance of tax ditches. This list has evolved into Delaware’s Tax Ditch Best Management Practices (BMPs). Some of the more significant practices include:
- Perform one-sided construction
- Minimize clearing widths through forested areas
- Relocate channels around sensitive and significant habitat or wetland areas
- Minimize construction of downstream outlets
- Block off old channels that drain only wetland areas
To ensure implementation of these BMPs, the Department routinely provides wetland/environmental training sessions for both technical and administrative staff members. The Department has constructed many projects incorporating these BMPs to test their effectiveness. These projects have resulted in the establishment of demonstration and education sites that have effectively shown that drainage and environmental quality do not have to be mutually exclusive.